Imagine trying to start a business while doing an MBA. Now imagine that Covid happened in the middle of the founding of the company. This was precisely the problem facing Whit Hunter, CEO of BetterWorld, along with co-founders Ben Yobp and Colin Hunter when they decided to start a company with the ambitious goal of transforming the charitable giving space by providing nonprofits with a free platform for Fundraising tools are made available they can keep 100% of the raised dollars.
With full transparency, I was able to watch the company’s progress and flourishing as I had whit in my MBA Marketing Course at Darden School of Business. I’ve watched time and again how he turned any business challenge into opportunities for profitable growth. What particularly impresses me is his strategic approach from the outside in – he has a single-minded focus on understanding his customers and creating value for them. In return, his company flourishes.
Unlike many business owners who are fixated on their product, the following is what happens when a business owner is more concerned with solving the consumer’s problem than the widget they create. Additionally, Hunter’s story shows what happens when you use consumer intelligence to better position your business – and then turn that superior positioning into better products and services.
Wittler: Your startup is now well on the way to becoming the largest fundraising platform in the industry within the next two years. How did you get to this level of growth so quickly?
Hunter: When it comes to our growth at BetterWorld, we really have five key insights that have allowed us to exceed our goals and become a leading platform that enables nonprofits to fundraise more effectively and cheaply. We knew we had to listen to the consumers and each of these lessons delivered aha moments that allowed us to transform the way our platform evolved to create greater value for our customers.
Lesson 1: Prioritize meaningful interactions with yours first Consumer.
In the early stages, we found that listening to each consumer provided critical insights that helped us adjust both our positioning and our product development. At BetterWorld, we’ve set up calls and provided personal onboarding and support with each new user. These conversations were mutually beneficial; the user felt connected and confident with the product, and at BetterWorld we were able to get detailed insights into consumer vulnerabilities. During our calls, users often said, “This feature seems great, but I am confused about X or feel like Y is missing”. Based on these initial discussions, we were able to make our positioning more relevant and then adapt the existing product features. Of course, this process is not scalable. At the beginning of the actual startup, however, the goal was simply to better understand our customers so that we could better align our company with their needs and create relative (compared to the competition) added value.
Lesson 2: listen to the question behind the question.
During these first conversations with users, we received countless questions from confused and suspicious customers. While it’s easy to quickly answer a seemingly simple question from a person, this is an opportunity to dig deeper to understand what the user might be able to do indeed need … but not articulate. At BetterWorld, for example, we would receive questions about product features. A simple question like, “Can I share this fundraiser on social media?” Could be driven by more critical questions like “Are there enough resources on BetterWorld to make up for my limited fundraising team?” or “I don’t have much time to market this myself, how can I get the word out that this is going to be a successful fundraiser?” Paying attention to these deeper questions enabled us to find more meaningful ways to add value. Consumers don’t always know what to ask. By constantly asking the reason for the question, we were able to better address the really important issues. Our mantra at this point was: “Listen, learn, solve, anticipate”. By understanding the drivers of pain points, we were able to better anticipate problems and build a better platform.
Lesson 3: Communicate Deeper Benefits.
From a functional point of view, we always knew that BetterWorld was the most efficient fundraising tool on the market. That was our original goal. So we built our positioning around this rational advantage and promoted this message: Our fundraising tools could help nonprofits raise 30% more dollars and far outperform our competition. If we talked about this benefit, our target consumers’ eyes would glaze over. Over time, we found that these weren’t the benefits that were actually important to our potential users. This answer made most of the users want to learn more about the deeper, and often simpler, benefits. In the context of BetterWorld, our users wanted to know: “Is it easy for me to use? Will it be easy for my donors? Are the transactions safe? And are you there if something goes wrong? ”Although these questions touched on functional traits, much of the underlying concern was emotional – it was about trust. While our rational utility did not change, user interest increased significantly as we addressed these emotional – and much deeper – concerns.
Lesson 4: Create for the Least-Savvy Consumer.
Similar to many industries, consumers in the non-profit sector have a wide range of knowledge in dealing with industry tools. Some customers are young, flexible, and tech-savvy, while other – and equally important – customers may be older and less familiar with navigating online fundraising platforms. However, older customers have more experience and understand the nonprofit sector better than younger users. And the range of skills is broad, as each individual starts with different skills.
This discrepancy presents a challenge. To counter the differences in knowledge and skills, we chose to approach this with the mindset that our target customer is someone who has never touched a computer before and has never raised funds before. In reality, such customers only make up a small fraction of the people using our platform, but by building to that level, our team is forced to create better, simpler, and more intuitive tools that will ultimately improve the experience of a technician-savvy user.
For example, as our client list grew, we didn’t have the opportunity to speak to everyone personally. In addition, not every customer wants a face-to-face meeting in order to use the site. So we’ve developed “onboarding flows” that show users how to easily set up a fundraising event and bring a successful product to market. We’ve also tiered our support systems so companies can choose between self-service options and more dedicated service on an equal footing. Importantly, we’ve tested the content at a wide range of skill levels to make sure it works as easily for beginners as it does for experts.
Lesson # 5: Take It “Home”
Our early learning moments at BetterWorld helped us understand what was most important to our clients: making the daunting fundraising process one less thing to think about. Behind the passionate and successful fundraising organizations that use our platform is a father of two who volunteer for his son’s school group, or a real estate agent who volunteers for a local animal shelter after a 60-hour week. Our positioning has evolved from: 1) more effective fundraising, to 2) a company you can trust, to 3) a platform to help customers get more involved with what they love – whether that’s a few Hours more with their family means precious time that they spend alone or working on a meaningful project that they are passionate about. The bigger lesson we gained from this process is that while our world is focused on our fundraising tools, it is not on our customers. You want BetterWorld to be a simple, effective, and small step in an otherwise overworked day. I call this reverse marketing because the ultimate benefit we can offer is that we spend less time on our product. This is an inconvenient idea, but one that relies on carefully considering the needs of our consumers outside of their role as users. If we can turn an 80 hour arduous fundraising campaign into an equally effective, stress-free 4 or 5 hour experience, we are actually building a better world – not just because of the good that these organizations can do through our platform, but for their leaders can live a more meaningful and joyful life.
Join the discussion: @KimWhitler
Special thanks to Sarah Young, an aspiring third grader at McIntire School of Commerce, University of Virginia, who took notes during the interview and helped compile this summary.